The name Foutanga Babani Sissoko may not mean much to you, but the Malian man is responsible for one of the most remarkable bank heists of all time – all by using ‘black magic’.
A piece by the BBC’s Brigitte Scheffer has laid bare the story of Sissoko, who successfully defrauded the Dubai Islamic Bank of over $272m (£172.5m) and lives freely in Mali today.
In August 1995, Sissoko walked into the head office of Dubai Islamic Bank in Dubai, asking its manager Mohammed Ayoub to give him a loan to buy a car. Ayoub agreed.
Pleased at the deal, Sissoko invited Ayoub home for dinner claiming he had ‘black magic’ powers, specifically the power to take a sum of money and double it.
Somehow, after a ‘magic display’, Ayoub fell for the ruse, and began making transfers into Sissoko’s accounts expecting to get them back twofold. Of course, they didn’t.
Ayoub made 183 transfers into Sissoko’s accounts around the world between 1995 and 1998, also settling Sissoko’s massive credit card bills running into the millions of dollars. That’s some gullibility.Just months after he duped Ayoub, Sissoko visited Citibank in New York, not just opening an account but finding a way to funnel money into the US – by marrying a teller.
“He walked into Citibank one day, no appointment, met a teller and he ended up marrying her,” says Alan Fine, a Miami attorney who investigated Sissoko.
“There’s reason to believe she made his relationship with Citibank more comfortable, and he ended up opening an account there through which, from memory, I’m just going to say more than $100m was wire transferred into the United States.”
Sissoko paid the woman over half a million dollars for her help, convincing her that she was his wife despite her knowing that he had many wives all over the world – in Africa, Miami and New York.
Flush with cash, Sissoko bought three planes and fulfilled his dream of opening an airline for West Africa – Air Dabia, named after his home village in Mali.
However, Sissoko was finally arrested after he tried to buy two Huey helicopters dating from the Vietnam War and offered a $30,000 bribe to a customs officer for an export licence.
After he was caught in Geneva, Sissoko was quickly extradited to Miami in the US, where he became a local celebrity and had a wealth of influential supporters.
Bailed for $20m – (£14.5m) – a Florida record at the time – Sissoko proceeded to blow all of his money in Miami, buying over 30 expensive cars, renting 23 apartments, and giving away large amounts of money to charity.
“I was thinking, is this some modern day Robin Hood? Why would you steal money and give it away? It doesn’t make any sense,” said one of his defence lawyers Prof H T Smith.
Fine viewed Sissoko’s actions more cynically, saying that so much of what Sissoko did was ‘to perpetuate a belief that he was a very powerful man and fabulously wealthy’.
When Sissoko’s case eventually came to court, he pleaded guilty. He received 43 days in prison – serving only half of it – and a $250,000 fine, of course paid for by the Dubai Islamic Bank.
Sissoko was eventually given early release in return for a $1m payment to a homeless shelter, being sent back to Mali to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. Instead, he was welcomed back as a hero.
While Ayoub was given three years in jail for defrauding the Dubai Islamic Bank, Sissoko never faced justice for his crimes, despite a Dubai court giving him the same sentence in his absence. He remains wanted by Interpol who have an outstanding warrant for his arrest.Between 2002 and 2014, Sissoko served as a member of parliament in Mali, which gave him immunity from prosecution. He is now protected by the fact that Mali has no extradition treaty with any other country.
When Scheffer finally tracked down Sissoko and asked him in person about the heist, Sissoko was unrepentant.
“Madame, this $242m, this is a slightly crazy story. The gentlemen from the bank should explain how they lost all that money,” Sissoko said.
“Listen, how could that money have left the bank the way it did? That’s the problem. It’s not this man alone [Ayoub] who authorises the transfers. When the bank transfers money it’s not just one person who does it. Several people have to do it.”
Although he blew all of his money and can never leave Mali without being arrested, Sissoko has been on the run for over two decades. Now that really is magic.
You can read the full story on the BBC site here.